It’s been quite some time since I’ve done any blogging. But, I just finished the Umstead 100 this weekend, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank my amazing crew, the RD, the volunteers, and the organizers of Umstead 100. What better way to do that than to share a race report? So here goes:
A Little Backstory
Shortly before Ginger and I moved to Blacksburg, we met some amazing VT Ultra folks at the Terrapin Mtn 50K last year. Brett Sherfy, Jordan Chang, and the rest of the VT Ultra crew made us feel welcome and they’ve really helped Ginger and me feel inspired about running since we moved to town. The community here in Blacksburg is amazing. Brett and Jordan encouraged me to get a slot in this year’s Umstead 100, so I did. And, I’m so glad.
Since I haven’t been blogging, I’ll start with talking about training. I had hurt my ankle last fall right before the Barkley Fall Classic (not the big boy Barkley Marathons, the BFC is a 50K that offers just a little taste of the real Barkley). Because I’m who I am (not a smart man) I kept racing and training through the fall. I had a rough, but satisfying day at the BFC, and then PR’ed at the Marine Corps Marathon and the Mountain Masochist 50 miler in October. I took some time off, and then paced Brett at Hellgate, where I rolled my weak ankle yet again. I had already signed up for Umstead, so I took the rest of December off and dove headlong back into training on January 1st. I didn’t get to train as much as I normally would for a 100 because of lingering ankle issues and a bout with the flu, but I had a solid training cycle and managed a little over 400 miles from Jan 1 to March 22. Not ideal. But, good enough. I hoped.
I assembled a plan to have a good day. My goal was (1) to finish, (2) to get a PR (Less than 24:53:49), (3) to go sub 23, (4) sub 22. More important was than my plan was my crew. First, Ginger was at the helm again as my crew chief. I know that when she is the one looking out for me, I will have everything I need to be successful. There is not a more supportive wife and best friend anywhere in the world. She is also one hell of a pacer. Second, Ginger’s mom Lois was going to be there to help manage the crew. She’s dynamite. Her encouragement and enthusiasm are unparalleled. Then, the pacers: Josh, my brother from another mother, was going to be there to motivate me through the dark places. I look up to him in ways that he probably can’t figure out because he’s so humble. And Jordan, the most encouraging and nicest human being anyone has ever met would also be there to pace, fix my ailments, and make me laugh.
Fast Forward to Race Day
I showed up at the starting line for Umstead feeling good but apprehensive. My ankle was feeling better thanks to a lot of help from Jordan. He told me I’d be just fine at Umstead. But, there’s always that nagging question. Can I do it? 100 miles is a long way. My last two 100 mile attempts (Leadville and Rocky Raccoon in 2014) had not turned out well. I timed out at Hope Pass at Leadville in 2013 and hurt my ankle at mile 60 at Rocky in 2014. I HAD to get this Monkey off my back. Umstead was my chance to do so.
I woke up at 4 am on Saturday feeling good. That’s saying something because I don’t do mornings. It was cold. Like in the 30’s. I had slept well in the back of Jordan’s Honda Fit (it’s actually quite roomy), and I got dressed and all ready to go. I wore a long sleeve shirt, shorts, my red bandana (a tradition), 2XU calf sleeves, and a pair New Balance 1210. It had rained Friday and Friday night, so I had 3 other pairs of shoes at the ready, but I hoped that it would stop raining so I wouldn’t have to waste time with shoe changes. Brett and I made our way to the start line after some time with our crew. Here's a shot of my and my awesome Crew Chief/Pacer
Brett, Michelle, and Jordy
The race began in the dark. No rain. Just cold. The atmosphere was electric.
Lap 1: Miles 1-12.5
Planned Time: 2:20
Brett and I planned to run together as long as I could keep up with him. The first few miles went great as the explained the course layout to me. At mile 4, I had to stop at the port-o-john. My anxiety about getting the 100 monkey off my back was wreaking havoc on my stomach, so we split up so I wouldn’t slow him down at all. I managed to make the stop quick, and I was back out on the loop. I felt great and ran easy. I managed to have a great lap in spite of a few pit stops. I was quick in and out of the crew stop. So quick that I forgot to give Ginger a hug before I got too stinky. I felt bad about that.
Actual time 2:11
Lap 2: Miles 12.5-25
Planned Time: 2:30
Lap two was uneventful. I managed to chat with some new friends along the course, and I just ran easy- keeping my heart rate low and reminding myself that this was going to be a fun day. The course was great. I was enjoying the short climbs at a hiking pace and running the flats and downhill stretches. I got in an out of the crew stop and HQ aid station quickly thanks to my amazing crew. As I came through each time Ginger, Josh, Lois, and Jordan quickly changed out my hand bottle and gave me what I needed. I think I remembered to give Ginger a big hug. I hope I did.
Actual Time: 2:12
Lois keeping warm and Jordy Hanging out
Lap 3: Miles 25-37.5
Planned time: 2:35
Lap 3 was awful. My right knee felt like it got a knife stuck in it right before Aid Station 2 (mile 6.8 on the loop). I had been having a great race up to that point. But now, my knee was killing me. I was really worried. I kept thinking: “Oh no. Not again. I am NOT going out like this. There HAS to be a solution to this problem.” I decided to just walk the rest of the lap and get help when I got there. I was not ready or willing to give up. I saw Brett a few miles from the Start/Finish and Crew area and told him quickly that I was having trouble. I felt bad about spreading any bad vibes, but he made me feel better. I came down the hill to the Crew Station on my way to the S/F and told Jordan, Josh, and Ginger that I was having trouble. I knew they could help, so I went to the S/F aid station, fueled up, and then went to get fixed up. Jordan, Josh, and Alan Needle (my buddy who’s an athletic trainer at App. State) were on me like white on rice. Josh said, “It’s going to be OK, brother.” Jordan went right into fix it mode, made sure I was only hurting and not injured, and busted out the Kinsio tape. He taped me up and then Allen added his Athletic Trainer skills and made sure the tape would stay. They were like a NASCAR pit crew banging out the dent in a wrecked car and sending it back on the track. Within 30 minutes, I had a taped knee and dry socks (to avoid blisters). I grabbed my headphones so I could listen to some podcasts to get me out of my own head. Off I went. I decided I would just walk until I couldn’t walk anymore. I figured that if I was really injured my knee would swell and that would let me know. If it didn’t I was HTFU and push through. I had lost 30 minutes by walking so much on this lap, and I knew I had just lost lap 4 time with the taping, but I shifted my goal. Now finishing was the goal. I didn’t care of it took me 29:59:59. I was just going to finish.
Actual Time: 3:03
Lap 4: Miles 37.5-50
Planned Time: 2:40
I set out limping onto lap 4. I said, “Walk to the end of the airport spur. When you get back to the gate, you can bail if you have to. If you can, in the words of Gordy Ainsleigh, “Take one more step. Take one more step and just keep going until you can’t.” I felt a little better at the gate. I decided to push for AS #2 at mile 6.8 of the lap. I figured I could get a ride back from there if I had to quit. But, I didn’t want to quit. By the time I reached AS#2, I felt great. No more knee pain. It was MAGIC! Even though I started the lap with 30 minutes spent sitting in a chair, I finished the lap in 3:04! I was 10 minutes faster in actual moving time than I had planned. I came in at 10 hours and 40 minutes for 50 miles after losing an HOUR to the knee debacle. I knew from this point on that I would finish. And finish strong. My crew had saved my race! I am so grateful to them.
Actual Time: 3:04
Lap 5: Miles 50-62.5
Planned Time: 2:50
I left the Crew Station with buoyed spirits and Ginger at my side. I was so excited to finally have her pacing me at a 100 miler. Lots of people might not understand what this means, but to me it was glorious. To be able to share the trail and this special goal with my wife and best friend is just something special. We talked about running, our life since moving to BBurg, and our hilarious dog and cats. It was so much fun. She kept me moving and kept my spirits high. We speed hiked up the hills and Ginger laughed because I was walking up the hills faster than she walks at the Kroger, which is fast! We crushed that lap and came in way under my planned pace. We made it past the 100K mark with daylight to spare.
Actual time: 2:26
Lap 6: Miles 62.5-80
Planned Time: 3:05
Josh joined me for lap 6. Josh is a special kind of person. I won’t talk about his job because he’s too humble for me to talk about his job without making him sound like the bad ass that he is, but let’s just say he deserves more respect than anyone can ever show him. More than that though, Josh understands friendship and brotherhood in ways that few people do. I treasure spending time suffering with him out on the trail. He’s uniquely talented in the art of HTFU, and he kept us moving at an amazing clip! He told me stories that made me laugh, and we talked about everything under the sun as we passed runner after runner. We’d set our sights on someone, and track them down, tell them they were doing great, and then blow by them. It was awesome!
Actual Time: 2:40- That’s a 12:48 average pace for miles 62-80. Seriously!
Lap 7: Miles 80-92.5
Planned Time: 3:20
Ginger was ready to go to take me back out for Lap 7. I was feeling great. I was tired, and my quads were shredded. But, the energy at the Crew Station was high. Lois was full of encouragement. I was psyched to get to spend another lap out on the course with my awesome bride. We stepped it out and Ginger just kept encouraging me and telling me how great I was doing. She picked up right where Josh left off in terms of helping us pass person after person. It was so much fun. One of my favorite memories of the race was just walking with her, running where I could manage, and talking about how great our life is. We are so lucky. One of my other favorite moments of the race was meeting up with Dan Lenz early in the lap. Dan was crushing the course. Early in the lap, we ran into Dan when he was on his way to the finish. Dan is an amazing guy and one of the strongest runners out there. I called after him to tell him he was doing great and tell him that he was an inspiration. Dan, who was in contention for the win, stopped, walked back to me, shook my hand and told me I was doing great. I was so impressed by that. Here he is in contention for the win and he stops, goes back down a hill to encourage me before heading back out to turn in an amazing performance. That’s why I love Ultras. That’s what this community is about. So cool! Ginger kept me moving quickly and we made it back to the S/F ahead of schedule.
Actual Time: 3:10
Lap 8; Miles 80 to 100
Planned time: 3:35
As Ginger and I came into the Crew Area, Josh was all ready to go to take me on the final lap. Brett Sherfy was nearly finished at this point. Jordan was out pacing him to the finish, so it was up to Josh to get me home. Josh was still wrapped up in a sleeping bag (it was cold), but he dropped the bag and said, “Let’s go brother. We got this. It’ll be the easiest 12.5 mile ruck of your life because you won’t have a ruck on. Let’s go!” So we did. We moved it out as quickly as I could manage. Another race highlight: Josh and I are walking along telling stories and someone comes HAULING ASS up from behind us. We were like, Who THE HELL is moving that fast at this time of night? Of course it was Jordan. Not content to only get Brett finished in a good time, Jordan literally sprinted from the finish line out onto the course to track us down. I’m sure it was good Boston Marathon training for him since we had a four mile head start. He joined us and laughed and encouraged us as we moved through the final lap. We had a blast. I loved every second of the stories he had to tell about Brett’s final lap. Maybe Brett write a race report. I hope so.
Actual Time: 3:25
Total Time: 22:51:00. New PR by 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 49 seconds. All thanks to my amazing crew!
I can’t say thank you enough to Ginger, Lois, Jordan, Josh, Brett, and Michelle. You helped me reach a goal that was really important to me. More than that, I am grateful to have shared the weekend with you.
Here’s a link to my Strava data if you’d like to see more about the course profile:
What you need to know about Umstead 100
· If you haven’t done this race, do it. The RD, the organizers, and the volunteers are literally the best. They want everyone to be successful. They take care of every runner. From first place to the last runner, they make everyone feel welcome and cared for. They take care of your crew like you would want them to: like family. That’s important. And uncommon.
· The course is fast, the footing is great, the aid stations are top-notch, and the vibe is electric.